Lynch Architects has won approval for a timber and stone extension to Westminster Coroner’s Court
The go-ahead from Westminster Council, the client for the project, came despite objections from local amenity group the Thorney Island Society, The Victorian Society and a late social media storm triggered by the borough’s shadow cabinet member for business and planning, Geoff Barraclough.
The Labour councillor tweeted that the proposed 125m² side-extension, housing more office space and improved facilities for visitors, ‘was not a thing of beauty’.
This prompted several architects and leading critics to come out in support of Lynch’s plans, with several putting their names to a letter backing the plans sent to the borough’s planning committee members ahead of last week’s meeting.
The Thorney Island Society had argued that the ’monumental scale and design of the proposed extension’ was not appropriate next to the original 1893 brick-built Grade II-listed ’domestic-scale pavilion’.
Meanwhile The Victorian Society said the proposal obscured the existing courthouse’s western elevation, that its zinc-covered barrel-vault roof ‘appeared incongruous’, and that its height should be reduced to ’reinforce the subservience of the extension’.
Source: Lynch Architects
However, the plans, which were given minor tweaks in April, were passed unanimously by councillors.
The Jura limestone-clad scheme will be built with a timber structure and the shape of the new building has been designed to echo the top-lit volume of the original Victorian court.
The building will also feature stained-glass windows designed by architectural artist Brian Clarke.
Construction work will also see the installation of a kitchen and sofa beds into the upper floor of the existing court building for emergency accommodation.
Lynch Architects has already worked on the site at 65 Horseferry Road. A new garden of remembrance designed by the practice was built to the left side of the court in summer 2018, its completion timed to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy, as families bereaved by the fire attended the inquest at the court.
Preparation building works are set to start on site in November and the project is scheduled to open in Spring 2022.
And yes, I think it's beautiful. Its simpicity allows the detail of the original building to stand out. Its public function calls for a bit of sobriety, which it has. It nicely balances the garden on the other side, which is also part of Lynch's design.— Rowan Moore (@RowanMoore) July 7, 2020
Statement to Westminster Council’s planning committee (7 July 2020) by Patrick Lynch, founder of Lynch Architects
When my father died suddenly in 1992, I was a fourth-year architecture student on an Erasmus Exchange in Lyon, France. I attended the inquest at the Victorian Coroner’s Court in Taunton a few weeks later with my mother and siblings, and our overriding memory is not of the exterior of the stone building, but of its dignified, solemn timber interior. Exposed to press photography and intrusive journalism that day, I vowed that, if I was ever called upon to design a coroner’s court, then I would place the needs of the bereaved above anything else, and aim to protect their privacy and dignity as much as possible.
Having worked closely with Her Majesty’s Coroner for Inner West London over the past four years on the design of the extension to Westminster Coroner’s Court and its Garden of Remembrance, I now know in painful detail how the needs of the bereaved are central to the mission of the coroner’s service. The planning application before you reflects this experience, and represents an unusually close collaboration between the design team, the client, the planning authority, Historic England, a world-renowned stained-glass artist, and the four local borough councils that fund and use the building.
I am not a planning consultant nor a public relations expert, and I’m sure that the process of engagement with the local community could have been handled better.
initial street elevation sketch
Source: Lynch Architects
Nevertheless, our task has been to accommodate individuals’ private experiences of sorrow and loss in their intricate use of quite a complex public building with serious, dignified, quietly beautiful, civic architecture. This is a task which the coroner and we have approached with modesty, pragmatism and tact, in the hope that our efforts will ease the suffering of the bereaved, respecting their plight; and respecting also the setting of the listed Victorian courthouse, maintaining the clear identity of its simple, symmetrical red and brick form. We are echoing some of its features and materials, yet in a clearly deferential manner, respecting the integrity of the original courthouse building.
It is obviously very difficult to convince everyone with drawings and images of this profound effort of decorum, craft and care. However, Historic England, the planning department of Westminster – not to mention the numerous architecture critics of our national press who have written supporting our design – as well as the numberless distraught visitors to the Garden of Remembrance since it opened in 2018, agree that there is nothing to object to in our work. In fact, quite the reverse. We urge you to listen to their witness please.
As submitted in February (left) and as approved in July (right)